Mae Jum’s Guide to Songkran!
สวัสดีปีใหม่ไทยค่ะ - Sawadee Pe Mai Thai ka - Happy Thai New Year! Now, you may have heard about Songkran before, Thailand’s most famous festival and the world biggest water fight! It is a high-spirited festival where Thais and tourists venture to the streets to get thoroughly soaked with buckets of water and water guns, coming together to celebrate the start of the traditional Thai new year and have fun! If you ever get the chance to participate in Thailand’s Songkran festival, you have the opportunity to immerse yourself in Thai culture and learn about the religious traditions.
What is Songkran?
Songkran, informally known as ‘Thailand’s water festival’ occurs between the 13th and 15th of April each year, which coincidentally is the hottest month of the year reaching high 30C’s. Songkran is one of the popular festivals not only in Thailand, but in other parts of Asia such as Northeast India and Sri Lanka. Songkran marks the beginning of a new solar year in the buddhist calendar and is a time of renewal and rebirth by cleansing yourself of past sins.
What does the water symbolise?
The significance of the water relates to spiritual purification, physical cleanliness and making a fresh start. A traditional ritual called Song Nam Phra, which means ‘pouring water on monks’, is a ceremony that takes place in a temple or privately in the family’s home.
A special kind of water prepared to have a fresh flower scent of rose and jasmine and this sacred water is gently poured over the hands or feet of the buddhist monk. If you are unable to visit a monk, pouring water over a Buddha statue gains the same merit and it is important to pour water only on the body and not over the head. Whilst pouring the water, you may wish to ask for good fortune, health or wealth.
Song Nam Phra is followed with the ritual of Rod Nam Dam Hua, which translates to ‘pour water on one’s head’. This ritual is where the younger members of the family will pour water over the hands or feet of their elders to ask for forgiveness of past behaviour and to show respect. Afterwards, the children receive their parent’s blessing. From these rituals of pouring water developed into Thailand’s famous water festival. (A new blog about Songkran rituals coming soon)
Visiting Thailand during Songkran: What to expect?
Without a doubt, expect to get very VERY wet, for 3 days straight!! No matter what area of Thailand you are in, pretty much anyone is fair game to get splashed with water, so embrace it and give them a good splash back! If you are in a city like Chiang Mai or Bangkok, expect to see some major streets blocked off. This is to make space for the massive water playground for everyone to enjoy and there will be giant water containers so that you can use to re-fill buckets and water guns.
Along with all the water throwing chaos, you may see a few local people smearing a white powder or paste on the face of others. This white paste is usually brushed on the forehead and cheeks, it is a symbol of being protected from bad luck.
Another Songkran ritual you see locals do is offer and tie Sai Sin (a blessed string). Sai Sin is usually a thin cotton string which has been blessed by monks and is a symbol of good luck. You don’t have to be buddhist to accept sai sin and it is considered disrespectful to turn down the offer.
If someone approaches you with a string held from either end, extend your wrist with your palm facing the sky. They will tie the string together as a bracelet (not too tightly) and say a short blessing. The tradition is to keep the bracelet on to bring good luck and allow it break or fall off on its own.
Things to keep in mind whilst at Songkran
Choose to wear light and fast drying clothes, so that you are not in wet clothes all day. Even though glass bottles are banned at these events, some crowds will still bring them to the party, so be careful of broken glass on the floor, flip flops may not be the best shoe choice! Before you go and buy a water gun, I recommend buying a small ziplock and waterproof bags to keep your money and valuables in to stay dry during the water fight.
Respectively get involved and play safe! Monks, pregnant women and babies are all exempt from being splashed with water, so do not do this. There will be a lot of motorcyclists driving about, please do not splash the driver, the amount of road accidents increases during this time.
Learn how to say ‘Sawadee Pe Mai’ or ‘Sawadee Pe Mai Thai’ which means happy new year or happy Thai new year. To show good manners you can add ‘Krap’ (if male) or ‘Ka’ (if female) to the end of the sentence. Make sure you are using clean water, either from a tap or from the big barrels provided around the city and please keep in mind that you shouldn’t throw water after sundown.
A new Songkran for 2021
Due to the pandemic, last year’s Songkran celebration was postponed for later that year. One national day was added to the weekend of the King’s birthday in July and the other two national days set for September, making a four-day weekend.
This year, Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) announced that Songkran can go ahead during the usual dates of 13-15th April, however with Covid-19 control guidelines, which means there will be smaller crowds.
The BMA allows the traditional activities to take place such as visiting temples to sprinkle water on Buddha statues and monks as well as pouring water onto the elderly’s hands to receive their blessings. The BMA has banned any activity that may attract a large crowd such as the water fights, powder smearing, street parties and concerts.
Although you may not be able to visit Thailand during this special time of year, perhaps this is something you want to experience for next year. So open up your calendar and make sure to keep April 2022 free, start planning and get hyped for Songkran!
สวัสดีปีใหม่ไทยค่ะ - Sawadee Pe Mai Thai ka!
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